On March 29, 2020 Laos imposed lockdown and confinement measures instructing Lao citizens to stay home, and nonessential businesses to cease operations. Certain temporary measures are now being lifted but the borders and international checkpoints remain closed.
The impact on some industries during the pandemic has been severe, but we are also seeing some positives coming out of this which may well continue once the lockdown measures have been lifted:
- Importance given to hygiene and safety measures. The official Government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and related guidance which has been published regarding the enforcement of stricter precautionary measures, has reaffirmed the importance of the hygiene and safety of employees in the workplace. In high-risk environments, it is likely that going forward there will be a higher degree of attention on health and safety measures and the obligations that employers must adhere to in protecting its staff.
- Dialogue with the authorities. While it is usually felt that the Lao bureaucracy poses challenges to investors, this period has proved otherwise. Local authorities have notably been more responsive to the concerns raised by business owners in terms of the controlled easing of lockdown measures and guidance on the operation of essential business during the strict lockdown.
- Adaptability. Despite the pandemic’s impact on the Lao economy, tech-based companies seem to have maintained business operations and avoided any economic loss by broadening access to resources online whilst staff work from home during the lockdown period. Accordingly, in the coming months and years, it is likely that there will be more options for submitting and dealing with matters entirely online, and a move towards the implementation of more robust IT infrastructures for business owners.
- Paperless governance. Similarly, the challenges faced by Laos’ businesses operating according to cumbersome paper-based management practices have shed light on the value of electronic document and record management systems, and the potential for more inclusive e-governance in the future.
We are likely to see a shift to more web-based and online-based businesses, and companies working more flexibly in respect of employees and where they are based. Although the pandemic lockdown has impacted some businesses negatively, it has also highlighted that there are alternative ways for employers to remain connected with their employees and that their businesses can operate under a different model to their existing one.